The Ballon D’Or is perhaps the most well-known individual award available to footballers and has been awarded annually since 1956.
George Best remains the only man from this island to have won the award, but there have plenty of others, from North and South, who have garnered votes over the years. In 2023, Ireland's Katie McCabe became the first Irishwoman to ever be nominated for the prize.
We’ll run through all the Irish nominees here.
The great Danny Blanchflower. One his best quips was ‘we like to equalise first’ This photo was sent to me on request by Spurs - a 9 year old fan born and raised in the Midlands - but idolising the greatest team of the 60’s. pic.twitter.com/aFj6ddDMEY
— David Rathband (@YidBarmy) December 30, 2020
Danny Blanchflower (Spurs, 14th place overall). As well as helping Northern Ireland qualify for the 1958 World Cup ahead of Italy and Portugal, Blanchflower was voted the Footballer of the Year in England for 1957/58
Harry Gregg (Manchester United, 8th place overall).
Danny Blanchflower (Spurs, 19th place overall). Gregg and Blanchflower rewarded for their performances as Northern Ireland reached the quarter finals of the World Cup.
Danny Blanchflower (Spurs, 17th place overall). Captain of the double winner Spurs side.
Jimmy McIlory (Burnley, 35th place overall). An important member of Burnley’s 1960 league winning side, he scored 3 in 6 Northern Ireland internationals in 1961.
Tony Dunne (Man Utd, 18th place overall). The first Republic of Ireland international to get a vote left Shelbourne for Man Utd in 1960 and would go on to play over 500 times for them, including the 1968 European Cup final.
OTD 1968 Ballon d'Or: Man Utd’s George Best wins award for best European football player ahead of team mate Bobby Charlton and Red Star Belgrade winger Dragan Džajić; first Northern Irish national to win the award
FM will feature both George’s time at Fulham and the USA pic.twitter.com/awD6RSz4lW
— Football Masters (@mag_masters) December 24, 2019
George Best (Man Utd, 8th place overall). First appearance on the list for then 21 year old Belfast man, who had helped United win the English league that year.
George Best (Man Utd, winner). Best beat United teammate Bobby Charlton to the award as they became the first English club to win the European Cup in May of 1968.
George Best (Man Utd, 6th overall). It was the third top ten finish in 3 years for Best.
Johnny Giles (Leeds United, eighteenth place). The only member of the 1972 Leeds FA Cup winning side to get a vote that year.
Don Givens (QPR, 27th place overall). In the 12 months from late October 1974, Givens scored 8 goals in European Championship qualifiers including that famous hat trick against the USSR and 4 in one game against Turkey.
Pat Jennings (Spurs, 27th place overall). Jennings was voted the PFA Player of the Year in England for 1975/76.
Steve Heighway (Liverpool, tenth place overall). No player for European champions Liverpool got more votes than the Dublin-born attacker.
Liam Brady (Arsenal, seventh place overall). The Dubliner became the first player from the Republic of Ireland to win the PFA Player of Year award in 1979.
Liam Brady (Juventus, eighth place overall). Brady is the first Irishman not playing in England to receive a vote
David O’Leary (Arsenal, 22nd place overall). O’Leary joins his former club mate on the list as the Republic of Ireland have 2 vote getters for the first time.
Liam Brady (Juventus, ninth overall). Brady won his first Scudetto with Juve in 1981.
Frank Stapleton (Man Utd, 21st overall). Brady is joined by another former club mate in Frank Stapleton who signed for Man Utd for a tribunal set fee of £900,000 from Arsenal that summer.
Norman Whiteside (Man Utd, 18th overall). Whiteside became the youngest ever FA cup final goalscorer in 1983 and was one of the most sought after young players in Europe.
Liam Brady (Sampdoria, 23rd overall). Serie A at the time only allowed one foreigner per team and Brady left Juventus for Sampdoria where he continued to impress.
Pat Jennings (Spurs, 21st overall). A return to the list after 10 years for Jennings as he helped Northern Ireland qualify for the 1986 World Cup.
Paul McGrath (Manchester United, 17th overall). The former St Pats man starred as the Republic of Ireland qualified for Euro 88 – our first ever major tournament.
Packie Bonner (Celtic, 17th overall). The big man for Donegal earned his place as Ireland qualified for Italia 90. He finished ahead of the likes of Paolo Maldini, Ronald Koeman and Gary Lineker in the voting.
Paul McGrath (Aston Villa, 12th overall). Playing at centre back in the English League, but in midfield for Ireland, McGrath was exceptional at the World Cup.
Paul McGrath (Aston Villa, 13th overall). Behind McGrath in the voting included players like Marco van Basten, Rudd Gullit and Gheorghe Hagi.
Paul McGrath (Aston Villa, 26th overall). He was the PFA Player of the Year in 1992/93. He had won the Irish equivalent, the PFAI Player of the Year, 11 years previously with St Pats.
Roy Keane (Man Utd, 6th overall). The first Cork man on the list starred for Man Utd on their way to winning the treble in 1999.
Roy Keane (Man Utd, 27th overall). Keane was the PFA Player of the Year in England for 1999/2000.
Keane is the last make footballer to get noticed since non-European players were eligible to receive votes. Between 2010 and 2015, the award was a joint FIFA award but has been presented by France Football for every other year. Apart from those FIFA years, a panel of European journalists has voted. In nearly all cases above, the players placing listed is an equal placing with a number of others. The voting method has changed several times of the years.
In total 16 footballers from Ireland have received Balon D’Or votes. 10 representing the Republic of Ireland and 6 representing Northern Ireland. 6 of them appear on the list at least twice. 3 of those who have received votes were goalkeepers. The players ranked by number of appearances (and then by first year on the list):
4 – Liam Brady (1979, 1980, 1981, 1983)
4 – Paul McGrath (1987, 1990, 1991, 1993)
3 – Danny Blanchflower (1957, 1958, 1961)
3 – George Best (1967, 1968 (winner), 1969)
2 – Pat Jennings (1975, 1985)
2 – Roy Keane (1999,2000)
1 – Harry Gregg (1958)
1 – Jimmy McIlroy (1961)
1 – Tony Dunne (1966)
1 – Johnny Giles (1972)
1 – Don Givens (1975)
1 – Steve Heighway (1977)
1 – David O’Leary (1980)
1 – Frank Stapleton (1981)
1 – Norman Whiteside (1983)
1 – Packie Bonner (1989)
Katie McCabe (Arsenal, 22nd overall)
On the back of inspiring an injury-ravaged Arsenal side to the Champions League semifinal, scoring the WSL goal of the season and captaining Ireland in its first-ever Women's World Cup, Katie McCabe became the first Irishwoman to be nominated for the Ballon d'Or.
In the end she finished 22nd in the voting among a shortlist of 30. It's an incredible achievement.
Because of Ireland's Nations League match away to Albania, she wasn't allowed to attend the ceremony.
📣 Katie McCabe says she probably won't be able to watch the Ballon d'Or ceremony on Monday evening
McCabe told us on Friday that she will be caught up with preparation for the return leg v Albania when the Ballon d'Or ceremony takes place on Monday in Paris ☘ pic.twitter.com/dNZhEXRSou
— Balls.ie (@ballsdotie) October 28, 2023